Purple Storm Overtakes Iowa

Purple Storm Overtakes Iowa
Wave of riders overtake a small town during RAGBRAI 2011

One minute it’s peaceful.  Calm.  Quiet.  Still.  The next there is a slight hum.  It grows into a whir.  Within no time at all, the funnel that amassed in the wee morning hours moves steadily eastward.  Soon it is bearing down on Main Street with full force.  There is no time to retreat.

The system has the whole town in its sights with every intention of chewing it up.  The townspeople can only hope that their preparation has been sufficient.  Months of planning, weeks of debating alternatives, and days of agonizing over the tiniest details will quickly be put to the test.

It’s not a twister or even the GOP presidential hopefuls looming on the horizon. It goes by the name of RAGBRAI and it’s about to hit town like a sudden summer storm.

RAGBRAI is a purple wave, a varying mixture of blue and red, rolling toward a solid red front.  Bicyclists from every corner of the US, many foreign countries, and the states immediately surrounding Iowa bring a diversity that’s seldom seen outside of Ames, Iowa City, or Des Moines.  While this population may include a few neighbors and hundreds of native Iowans, the culture is largely foreign to the locals.

Colorfully dressed in exotic fabrics, some riding bicycles worth more than many of the cars and trucks parked along the town’s side streets, the riders mesmerize young and old alike.  For hours on end, traffic is diverted as thousands parade through town celebrating their alternative lifestyle.   The townspeople are a captive audience.

Likewise, some riders may feel a bit uneasy as they enter town.  Lawn placards urging voters to unseat judges who supported gay marriage are as commonplace as fire hydrants.  Other hand-made signs and billboards placed along quiet roads give the impression that there is a rash of promiscuity and immorality plaguing the countryside.  Without these constant reminders, the youth of Iowa would apparently be in imminent danger of becoming gay or terminating pregnancies.

It would seem that a tempest is inevitable.

The polar opposites ultimately meet face to face.  They stand toe to toe and words are exchanged.  Food and drink are shared.  Donations are made.  Strangers become acquaintances.  Acquaintances become friends.  Colors blend together.

The hospitality of rural Iowans cannot be overstated.  Opening their homes and sharing their schools, parks, and public places, they treat RAGBRAI riders like extended family.  Churches welcome all to share food and fellowship, regardless of religious affiliation.  Community groups supply refreshments and entertainment in the name of civic pride.

It makes one wonder if today’s media exists purely to create villains and exacerbate conflicts.  The constant spotlight on Iowa as a bellwether for ultraconservative credentials may be a bit overblown.   While their perspective may be a little skewed due to a lack of diversity and a dearth of differing viewpoints, rural Iowans are mostly hard-working people with civic pride and a strong sense of community.

It’s hard to know if our two-wheeled movement from east to west changed any hearts or minds along the way.  One can only hope that both the townspeople and the riders are a bit more purple for the experience.

I know I am.


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